What is a Generalized Anxiety Disorder? How Common Are Generalized Anxiety Disorders? Are there different shapes or gradients? How does a generalized anxiety disorder develop? How to find out if you have a Generalized Anxiety Disorder? How are Generalized Anxiety Disorders Treated? What can friends or family do?
What is a Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
People with generalized anxiety disorder suffer from a constant sense of anxiety and tension with regard to everyday events and problems. The concerns are related to different areas that others also worry about, e.g. that they or their relatives could become seriously ill or have an accident. In people with a generalized anxiety disorder, however, such concerns are much more pronounced than with other people, so that everyday life can be severely impaired. It is normal to worry about certain situations: someone who works for a company that is in a bad mood, maybe worries about their job. However, people with generalized anxiety disorder worry excessively, even if there is no particular danger. They also have little or no control over their worries.
The diagnosis of “generalized anxiety disorder” applies when there is at least 6 months of concern and tension regarding everyday events and various physical and psychological symptoms, for example:
Tingling in the stomach
Afraid to go crazy or die
Feeling of heat or cold
Those affected often try to avoid triggers (such as reports of accidents) or try to reassure their relatives that they are well and that nothing will happen. As relatives often experience the worries as stressful, conflicts can arise.
How Common Are Generalized Anxiety Disorders?
About 5 out of 100 people develop generalized anxiety disorder during their lifetime. Women are about twice as likely to be affected as men. While other anxiety disorders usually occur in adolescence or early adulthood, this is rather rare in generalized anxiety disorders. Generalized anxiety disorders often occur between the ages of 35 and 45 for the first time.
Are there different shapes or gradients?
Most people who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder also have other mental illnesses. Most common are affective disorders (eg, depression), other anxiety disorders, and somatoform disorders.
If, in addition to the generalized anxiety disorder, other illnesses occur at the same time, the disorder is more likely to have a chronic course. If left untreated, there is a high risk that it will persist for a long time, with frequent variations in severity: many patients experience periods when they are symptom free, but around half of them recur later Complaints. Many people also spend several years looking for help.
How does a generalized anxiety disorder develop?
There are several causes and explanations for how and why an anxiety disorder can develop:
Influences that one inherits (genetic influences) can play a role in the development of fears.
In people with a generalized anxiety disorder, you can detect more activity in certain areas of the brain than other people. Presumably, in people with anxiety disorders, messenger substances in the brain, which provide relaxation, are less present or may have a worse effect.
Some people who develop an anxiety disorder did not have a secure attachment as children, e.g. to their parents or other close caregivers. They have sometimes experienced the behavior of their close caregivers as unpredictable.
For people with generalized anxiety disorder it is often more difficult to bear than for other people that one has no “absolute safety” (example: in traffic, at work). They are very sensitive to stimuli that could pose a threat. Ambiguous stimuli (ie events that may be harmless or threatening) are more likely to be considered threatening. Sufferers believe that they can not change or control things, which in turn triggers fear.
Many sufferers assume that they can protect themselves through worries of disappointment or avert a misfortune. Behind these positive assumptions about worries lies the idea: Who as a precaution is afraid that something might happen, will not be disappointed, if it really should happen.
How to find out if you have a Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
If the symptoms and signs described here are correct, generalized anxiety disorder may be the reason. Then it is highly recommended to see a doctor or psychotherapist. An anxiety disorder rarely disappears “by itself” again.
In a conversation, a doctor or psychotherapist will ask about the individual complaints, the general state of health, the family history and after physical illnesses and check whether a generalized anxiety disorder exists. Questionnaires help the therapist to assess the severity of the illness and to clarify whether other psychological problems are the cause. A physical examination can clarify if the symptoms – especially the physical symptoms – have physical causes.
How are Generalized Anxiety Disorders Treated?
As a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder psychotherapy or drugs – especially so-called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), selective serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI) or the active ingredient pregabalin – in question. The aim of both treatments is to reduce anxiety to a tolerable level.
Although so-called benzodiazepines (medications that calm down quickly) can help in the short term, they should only be prescribed in absolute exceptional cases, as they can make them dependent – unlike the other drugs.
Through psychotherapy, sufferers can learn to cope with their worries and reduce the accompanying physical and mental discomforts (for example, through relaxation techniques), so that they are not so distressing. The best-studied and long-term effective method is cognitive behavioral therapy.
If a patient prefers to be treated with a psychodynamic psychotherapy procedure or the behavioral therapy has not worked, these procedures can also be used. However, they have so far been less well-studied for generalized anxiety disorder than behavioral therapy.
What can friends or family do?
Close caregivers (such as relatives, partners) are usually affected, as sufferers often involve them in their worries, for example, to assure themselves that nothing bad has happened or is about to happen, often calling their caregivers.
It is helpful if family members are well aware of the generalized anxiety disorder. If possible, they should avoid reassuring the person concerned, as this often helps in the short term, but in the long term it helps to maintain the worries.
For well-being it is important that relatives do not restrict themselves too much. For example, they should not renounce activities that give them pleasure because the person concerned would then worry. If the anxiety disorder of the partner, family member or friend is too burdensome, family members can also get help from self-help groups, counseling centers, doctors and psychotherapists